HOUSTON — The U.S. Supreme Court refused Tuesday to consider an appeal from a suburban Houston man on Texas death row who arranged the killings of his mother and brother in 2003 so he could collect a $1 million inheritance.
Attorneys for 37-year-old Thomas “Bart” Whitaker went to the high court after losing a federal court appeal earlier this year. He claims his trial lawyers were deficient and that Fort Bend County prosecutors engaged in misconduct by improperly referring to discussion of a plea deal that never was reached.
According to court records, Whitaker offered to take responsibility for the killings and accept life sentences but his attorneys said prosecutors rejected it because it contained no expression of remorse for the shooting deaths of his mother, Patricia Whitaker, 51, and his brother, Kevin, 19, at the family’s Sugar Land home. Whitaker’s father was shot but survived.
The justices provided no explanation for their refusal.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in its ruling in April, pointed to court records consistently showing trial lawyers initiated the plea bargain offer and that prosecutors said they would promise “to consider” not seeking the death penalty.
A jury decided he should be put to death.
Evidence showed Whitaker orchestrated the plot and that it was at least his third attempt to kill his family.
As part of the scheme with two friends, Whitaker was shot in the arm to draw attention away from him.
The gunman, Chris Brashear, pleaded guilty in 2007 to a murder charge and is serving life in prison. Another man, Steve Champagne, who drove Brashear from the Whitaker house the night of the shootings, took a 15-year prison term in exchange for testifying at Whitaker’s trial.
Investigators said they made the shooting look as though the family had interrupted a burglary when they returned from a dinner to celebrate Thomas Whitaker’s graduation from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville. Whitaker never graduated.
Whitaker does not yet have an execution date.
In a second case involving a Texas death row inmate, the Supreme Court ordered the 5th Circuit to review the case of 36-year-old Obie Weathers, who was convicted in a robbery-slaying in San Antonio in 2000.
The 5th Circuit last year rejected arguments that Weathers is mentally impaired and shouldn’t be put to death. That decision, however, preceded a similar case earlier this year in which the high court decided that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ignored current medical standards and required use of outdated criteria when ruling on the mental disabilities of capital murder convicts.
Weathers was 19 in February 2000 when he shot 63-year-old Ted Church twice in the head and once in the abdomen as Church tried to break up the robbery at the bar on San Antonio’s east side. Church was a customer. Weathers fled with about $200.